Jan. 3, 2012
Northwestern (11-3, 1-1 Big Ten) vs. Illinois (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten)
Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012
Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117)
Evanston, Ill. 6 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network (Wayne Larrivee and Shon Morris)
Audio: WGN 720 AM and wgnradio.com (Dave Eanet and Tim Doyle); WNUR 89.3 FM and sports.wnur.org
In-game Twitter updates: @NU_SportsLIVE
Northwestern Game Notes (PDF)
Skip Myslenski on Alex Marcotullio
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern looks to match its second-best 15-game start in school history Wednesday as it hosts Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. with Big Ten Network televising the contest.
The contest is sold out and fans are encouraged to arrive early to alleviate congestion.
A win by the Wildcats would raise their season mark to 12-3, matching the same record as the 1932-33, 1945-46 and 2009-10 teams. The 1930-31 squad posted the best start in program history through 15 games at 14-1.
NU is coming off a 68-56 home victory over Penn State in its Big Ten home opener Sunday evening. The 'Cats made 14 of their first 16 field goal attempts in the second half, outscoring the Nittany Lions 45-30 following the intermission. Drew Crawford led Northwestern with 21 points, while freshman Dave Sobolewski contributed a career-high 20 points. John Shurna chipped in with 17 points and eight rebounds and Luka Mirkovic posted a game-high 11 rebounds.
Last Season: The teams split their season series a year ago with each squad winning on its home court. Illinois posted an 88-63 win Jan. 6 in Champaign before Northwestern earned a 71-70 victory Feb. 5 in Evanston.
The Fighting Illini (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten) dropped a 75-60 decision at Purdue last Saturday. Brandon Paul led Illinois with 17 points, while D.J. Richardson added 15.
Richardson paces Illinois with an average of 14.3 points per game, while Meyers Leonard posts norms of 13.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest.
Leonard leads the Big Ten with an average of 2.4 blocks per game and is third with a .611 field goal percentage.
Bruce Weber is in his ninth season as the head coach at Illinois (205-89). He is 306-143 in 14 overall seasons as a head coach.
A CHALLENGING ROAD AHEAD
The Wildcats will have plenty of opportunities in their upcoming schedule to earn quality wins. A Dec. 22 contest at Creighton began a stretch during which Northwestern plays five ranked teams over a seven-game span. A sixth team--Illinois--was ranked in the Dec. 19 polls, but is not ranked this week.
WILDCATS IN THE RPI RANKINGS
The NCAA came out with its RPI rankings on Monday and Northwestern came in ranked No. 33 nationally. The Wildcats have already played three teams in the top 10 in the rankings: Seton Hall (4), Baylor (5) and Ohio State (9). NU is the seventh-highest ranked team in the Big Ten, trailing Michigan State (8), Ohio State (9), Indiana (15), Minnesota (19), Illinois (25) and Michigan (31).
CRAWFORD JOINS 1,000-POINT CLUB
Junior forward Drew Crawford scored 21 points against Penn State Jan. 1 to become the 31st Wildcat to reach the 1,000 career-point milestone. He's the 17th Northwestern player to reach the mark in his first three seasons of action. Crawford currently has 1,002 career points to rank 30th in school history.
Northwestern started its season 10-1 for the third time in school history, matching the 1982-83 and 2009-10 teams. It's the best start for the Wildcats since beginning the 1930-31 season with a school-record 12 straight wins. Northwestern set a school record this year with six victories in the month of November after going a perfect 5-0 in the month last season. NU has won 16 of its 17 games in the month of November over the last three seasons.
John Shurna tied a Northwestern record and was one shy of the Big Ten record when he knocked down nine 3-pointers in the Wildcats' win over Eastern Illinois Dec. 18. The nine triples tied Craig Moore's record established Nov. 22, 2008 at Brown. Shurna went 9-for-12 from beyond the arc in the contest and scored 32 points, marking his fifth career game scoring 30 or more points in a contest. He ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 2.7 3-point field goals per game.
BOMBS AWAY!, PART 2
Northwestern leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally with an average of 9.3 3-point makes per game. The Wildcats are 8-1 this season when making at least nine triples in a game. NU scorched the nets for 20 3-point field goals in its 92-67 win over Mississippi Valley State Dec. 2. The mark tied the school and Big Ten record for 3-pointers in a game, matching Northwestern's total against North Carolina A&T Dec. 13, 2009. NU assisted on 30 of its 34 field goals in the contest with the 30 helpers ranking as a tie for second in school history, two shy of the top mark and tied for the most against a Division I opponent.
This year's senior class posted its 66th career win against Central Connecticut State Dec. 17 to set a program record, topping the class of 2010-11. Northwestern is coming off its third straight postseason appearance--a program best--advancing to the NIT quarterfinal round before falling 69-66 at Washington State in overtime. The Wildcats have posted a school-record 20 wins in each of the last two seasons.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
The Wildcats have some big shoes to fill in the backcourt with the graduation of Michael Thompson. A four-year starter, Thompson completed his career at NU's all-time leader in games played, games started, minutes played and assists, while ranking third all-time in scoring. Freshman Dave Sobolewski has stepped in valiantly in his stead. Through 14 games, all starts, Sobolewski is averaging 8.8 points and 3.9 assists per game and has committed just 12 turnovers in 473 minutes of action to go along with 55 assists. He scored a collegiate-best 20 points in a victory over Penn State Jan. 1. Sobolewski posted a career-high eight assists with no turnovers Dec. 22 at No. 23/21 Creighton.
Nation's Assist-to-Turnover Ratio Leaders
(min. 3.0 assists/game; through 1/2)
1. Dave Sobolewski--NU, Fr. - 4.58
2. Roy Devyn Marble--Iowa, So. - 4.23
3. Kendall Marshall--N. Carolina, So. - 4.17
4. Randy Davis--Ball State, Sr. - 4.11
Northwestern is well known for playing "team" offense and that's reflected in the statistics. The Wildcats ranks second in the nation with a 1.71 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. NU ranked second nationally to only Wisconsin with a 1.70 mark a year ago. NU ranks fifth in the country with an average of just 10.1 turnovers per contest and 12th with a norm of 17.2 assists per game. Northwestern is assisting on 68.7 percent of its made field goals, the third-highest percentage nationally.
We're not sure which one is Batman and which one is Robin, but senior John Shurna and junior Drew Crawford have already shown that they form a pretty formidable 1-2 punch. Shurna leads the Big Ten with an average of 18.6 points per game, while Crawford is the Big Ten's second-leading scorer with a norm of 17.9 points per contest. They join Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard of Tennessee Tech (Ohio Valley Conference) as the only teammates in the nation to rank 1-2 in their league in scoring average.
Northwestern is off until next Wednesday, Jan. 11 when it travels to Michigan. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. Central time.
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